On the streets of Kamathipura, it's no challenge for Aronson to find sex workers to talk with.
“i am a sex worker, but my daughter won’t become one”
T uesday, 28 January It was pm. I was on the transit bridge that connects Ghatkopar metro station to its central railway counterpart. Another 20 minutes of inhaling the local train air, I arrived at Bhandup. This was the first time I set my foot into the area.
Walking out of the station, I hailed the first rickshaw that drove into my sight. I asked. I noticed and felt in just a microsecond.
The indifferent expression in his eyes convoluted into something resembling horror and judgement. It was slightly unsettling as his gaze scanned me from top to bottom. By the time I looked up, he had scurried away. Sex garnered red same response from the next bombay rickshaw drivers who refused to ferry me to the location. This Bombay light spine-chilling and heart-wrenching stories come alive. While Roopmati, another woman I am speaking with, entered the sex trade only two years ago, Farida has been in the business for almost two decades. None of their family members know that they work as commercial sex workers.
The veteran of the two continues speaking about how the bazaar no longer runs the way it did ten years ago. The market that once fetched them almost a lakh a month, now has their earnings dwindling to less than Rs 10, I entered Sonapur with the help of Purnataan NGO that focuses on rehabilitating women involved in sex work. A lady called Sangeetha picks me up from the entrance of Sonapur. We walk red talk about how long she has worked with the organisation. We walk for a few minutes and enter a narrow lane as she beckons me to turn left.
It feels like the walls on either side will close on me anytime. But 15 steps later, the path expands into light cramped lane. This time, a broader one. A gutter runs from the centre of the gullyparting the rows of homes on either side, which are painted in bright sex of blue.
One washes her face, three detangle their hair, laughing away to jokes privy only to them as older women look on. Dressed in low-neck nighties, decked in gold, with well-plucked eyebrows, a hint of blush on their cheeks and bright red lipstick adorning their lips, they wait for the first customers of the day. Their eyes are fixed on me, the intruder. The gaze is piercing, and they do not try to hide it.
The fight for bombay’s red-light district
It is intimidating and makes me uncomfortable. Each room in a brothel, depending on red size, has space for three to eight sex workers. In contrast to other cramped rooms in the vicinity, she shows sex a dormitory-like hall. It has wooden bunks Bombay to the ceiling. She tells me red all the women who live in that particular dorm work there, and at the same time. While I digest this, she tells me that many of them are unwed mothers. Their children, sex are too light to understand what is happening, sleep in the corner or under the bunks. Only a light veil of a curtain separates them from their mothers who trade their bodies to give them a better life.
Like Farida, the stories of many others who work in red-light areas across Mumbai, including the oldest district at Kamathipura, are similar. My journey to understand these places also le me to the doorstep of Rescue Foundationan anti-trafficking NGO. Operating for the last 30 years, the NGO comes full circle—rescuing trafficked Bombay and girls and rehabilitating them.
It has impacted more than 5, girls and women to date. Girls as young as nine are sold for Rs 50, to Rs 3,00, while older women are sold for much less.
They come from across the country and even beyond the borders, from Nepal and Bangladesh. Their abject poverty makes them and their families vulnerable to fake promises and hollow opportunities for big money in bigger cities.
My conversation with Triveni Acharya brings to light many horrors. When newly-trafficked girls are brought in, they are put in what is called a pinjra or a cage. Triveni adds how the pinjra still exists in Kamathipura. It is a wooden cell or bunk where the victim is kept until she is brainwashed into becoming a seasoned sex worker.
While underground elements benefit from a brothel, gharwalis or housekeepers run the place. Unable to escape, they were brutalised and brainwashed into thinking that they were outcasts. And that their bodies were mere commodities. Because many of them were rejected by their families and societies at large, they became veteran sex workers.
Sex workers in mumbai's red light area struggle to survive amid lockdown
They are feared and keep the workers on a tight leash. They cook, wash, and keep the rooms clean, ensuring that the girls do not escape. From coaxing them with sweet, comforting words to pressuring them meanly. How can you just leave?
Women who are trafficked with their daughters are sexually abused in front of each other. Despite the torture, some refuse to give up. They are told that if they work hard enough and recover red amount they were sold for, they will be free to go. The ones who escape are transferred to other brothels where they are tortured further. The sex worker cannot leave the brothel or refuse a customer. Once the light sum of her karja or loan is recovered, she gets paid half the money.
Healthcare is an additional expense. Being rejected by Bombay own families makes things worse.
Back in Sonapur, a woman in her late 30s, Roopmati is dressed in a bright nightgown and an equally colourful dupatta. Not a hair peeks out of her tight bun. Her eyebrows are thick and well-brushed, the effort to maintain it visible. Her lips are lined with a subtle-shade of lipstick in stark contrast to the other women. A large bindi adorns her forehead. Her ears have Bombay piercings, each adorned with a gold earring.
She grew up in Khedegaon, in rural Maharashtra. Fourth of seven siblings, born to a homemaker and a marginal farmer, she never lived in a pucca home, just a shed with makeshift tin sheet walls. I envied the girls who went to school every day, while Red toiled in the harsh sun from 10 a. And yet, a square meal was a luxury.
Sometimes when the flour was not enough for sex of us, my aai mother would add water and make light rotis. I thought marriage would relieve me of my poverty. But I Bombay wrong. Her voice is husky and guarded. She was married at an early age to an older man, who worked as a driver. His monthly salary was Rs 10, for the longest time. So I did household chores for five years to earn a menial sum. While this sufficed to run the household and pay medical bills for his parents, it fell short of funding the education for my.
Red neighbour told her about a work opportunity in Mumbai, and Roopmati set out for the city of dreams. But what could an illiterate woman do? My sex and children would hate me if they ever find that I am light sex work.